The Path Of Deinstitutionalisation – Urgent Moves PODIUM project started in 2015 with the objective of supporting the deinstitutionalisation (DI) process in the Central-Eastern Europe. The six members of the consortium are organisations from Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia, Romania and Denmark. In the framework of the project, professionals involved in the deinstitutionalisation process were trained on various aspects of DI.

According to the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care (EEG), deinstitutionalisation refers to the ‘process of developing a range of services in the community, including prevention, in order to eliminate the need for institutional care’. This process is key to allow people with disabilities acquire a dignified quality of life based on independent living. DI process is part of the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and the European Disability Strategy (2010-2020,) both advocating for community-based services and for social inclusion of people with disabilities.

As observed by different speakers at the conference, progress has been made from the start of the deinstitutionalisation processes in European countries. However, there are still obstacles hindering the full implementation of the process. One of the messages that emerged from the conference is that deinstitutionalisation does not merely mean downsizing bigger institutions. For instance, many countries built smaller institutions or refurbished existing ones, without producing a rupture from the past on the way people with disabilities are treated or included into societies.

As noted by Ildikó Horváthné Somogyi, President of Veszprem County in Hungary and President of the Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability, “DI is successful when it allows people with disabilities to live according to their own choices”. Implementing supported decision-making is therefore one the biggest challenges, because it requires a shift in the way services are provided. Moreover, adapted tools for people with special needs, such as supported IT tools or instructions to perform everyday tasks (e.g. paying bills, going to work, choosing furniture for the house, using a washing machine) are crucial to enable them to uphold their right to independent living.

Additionally, it is crucial to train staff working in institutions on how to transition toward supported living houses and assist people with disabilities to live independently. To date, staff have been trained on the legal rights of people with disabilities but not on how to implement these rights from a practical point of view.

The conference concluded that supported decision-making is key for the success of DI processes. Services should be provided in an integrated way to allow people with disabilities to live to their potential in all different areas of life: accommodation, health, relationships, employment, leisure time, and education. Concurrently, staff should be trained to support service users to understand and decide on their life choices. Most importantly, users should be involved in the whole process of DI, as they are experts by experience and can help professionals design the most satisfactory services.